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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Everchanging Plans for Acquisition of Amphibious Transport Vessels for the PN

Recently a news report came out quoting an unnamed DND official on the procurement of 2 Service Support Vessels (SSV), which was described as "mission capable ship" and "smaller than the MRV (multi-role vessel, a.k.a. Landing Platform Dock), and is worth around P2 billion.

Before we attempt to discuss this new program, MaxDefense would like to go back in time.

Previous attempts by the Philippine Navy to purchase replacements or complements for its old and mostly World War 2-era amphibious vessels date back before the Ramos-era AFP Modernization Program. Most have not been implemented, except for a few new assets.

From 1991, the Philippine Navy planned to have at least 8 units of Logistics Support Vessels (LSV), of which 2 units were bought from the US government and were delivered between 1993 and 1994. The US-made LSV were based on a helicopter-capable design of the US Army's Frank Beeson-class, known in the Philippine Navy as the Bacolod City-class. These were envisioned to replace and complement the ex-USN Landing Ship Tank (LST) and decommissioned Landing Ship-Medium (LSM) that were decimated in the PN's fleet due to obsolescence and lack of funding to support maintenance and operation. Besides the first 2 units, no additional units were ordered.

The 1995 AFP Modernization Act included a requirement for 4 amphibious transport vessels, although it did not specify which type it plans to acquire. But it was very much possible to still be  US-made LSVs similar to the Bacolod City-class or an LST design. Between 1995 and 2010, no new amphibious transport vessel was purchased or inducted to the PN.

The plans to purchase Multi-Role Vessels (MRV) actually started in 2005, when the PN's delegation at IMDEX Asia 2005 in Singapore visited and reportedly "evaluated" a Singapore Navy (RSN) Endurance-class landing ship tank/LPD for possible acquisition. *Initially the price quoted to the DND and PN was within the budget, but it appears that the unit price of the Endurance-class increased afterwards, even in the less-automated version. The DND and PN's slow action to push for the program's success was overtaken by commercial and costs issues that ultimately stopped the deal from progressing further .*

RSS Persistence, an Endurance-class LST/LPD. Was the first chance of the PN to obtain a modern LPD.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons c/o jimmyweeee

After the failed attempt at the Singaporean Endurance-class, the DND and PN looked for a cheaper alternative, and found an answer from South Korea's Daesun Shipbuilding and Indonesia's PT PAL, with the Makassar-class LPD or its derivative. The Makassar-class was built by Daesun for the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) following civilian specifications. Some of the ships of the class were built by Indonesia's PT PAL under a technology transfer agreement. 

Initially, the PN aired its desire to obtain at least two units, with each ship costing around Php 5 billion. Negotiations for the deal included a possible financing by the South Korean government as part of a loan package for military equipment (which the Philippine government did not opt to use), freezing the price against escalations to avoid the same mistake as the Endurance-class project, and bundling each ship with an appropriate number of support crafts and vehicles including the Samsung Techwin KAAV7 (a Korean licensed-built AAV7) and a mobile hospital.

As late as 2010 on the closing days of the Arroyo administration, the PN was reportedly close to completing the deal for at least 1 unit for Php 5 billion. This was the closest attempt by the PN to have its first ever new large amphibious vessel, but this was later cancelled by the current Aquino administration citing re-evaluation for possible contract-detail issues, specifically on suspicion of graft and corruption. 

The PN's MRV plan based on the Makassar-class, packaged with several support craft and vehicles.
Photo taken from forum c/o Adroth

The Makassar-class is still reportedly being considered for the MRV project, either made by Indonesia's PT PAL or by South Korea's Daesun Shipbuilding.

An Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) Makassar-class LPD

Reports also came out that the PN was interested in the Spanish Galicia-class, and even the expensive and advanced San Antonio-class LPD from the US. Spain's Navantia also confirmed that the PN was indeed offered the Athlas-class LPD family, which the Galicia was based.

Navantia's Athlas LPD 8000
Photo taken from Navantia website.

In 2009, another transport vessel program was brought up for the PN which was called the Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV), which is a proposal to purchase a used Roll-on, Roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferry from Japan, and its purchase will be supported by DBP Maritime Leasing Corporation Inc. (DMLC), a subsidiary of Development Bank of the Philippines, more widely known as DBP. 

The original SSV is a typical Ro-Ro ferry built to commercial Ro-Ro standards, with no helicopter deck or helicopter facilities, no heavy weapon mounts (although machine gun mounts can be added by the PN), and cannot conduct amphibious operations. In short, it is just a sealift vessel to transport vehicles and men between developed ports or piers.

A typical Japanese-made Ro-Ro. The original SSV project was to purchase a similar ship.
Photo taken from

Although the request for budget was submitted to the Philippine Congress, delays mounted and this program fizzled after budget allocation was not provided immediately. The specific ship offered to the government was sold to another buyer.

Afterwards, the PN and DND decided to change the technical specifications of the SSV project, moving away from the civilian Ro-Ro type ferry to a small MRV-looking ship, and although still built according to civilian specifications, it would be built according to the navy's requirement, is better armed and more capable than the earlier proposal.

PT PAL's proposed SSV based on reduced Makassar-class

Indonesia's PT PAL came out with a scale model and specifications of a Strategic Sealift Vessel which it claimed was offered to the PN, and appears to be smaller and shorter than the original Makassar-class based MRV they offered earlier.

PT PAL's specifications for their SSV offer.

It was later reported that the PN was indeed looking into purchasing SSVs, with offers from Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France and Italy, and admittedly smaller than the MRV but is also priced less with a budget of only Php 2 billion each or less than half of that the original MRV. MaxDefense sources have so far only confirmed three of the said offers: Singapore ST Engineering's Endurance 120 series of multi-role vessel; Indonesia PT PAL's SSV-LPD which is a smaller derivative of the Makassar-class; and a special model from Spain's Navantia which is based on Athlas LPD 8000 but is much simpler and smaller.

ST Engineering's Endurance 120 series.
Photo taken from ST Engineering's product brochure.

Although not a real replacement for the old PN LST, another amphibious vessel program was brought out and was successfully completed, the Landing Craft Utility (LCU) program, which is a smaller class than the SSV and MRV. The project was completed as the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) and the "mysterious" BRP Manobo (BU-297) (to be discussed separately). These are small vessel programs and are not intended to replace the LSTs, but rather fill-in a different requirement.

The BRP Tagbanua (AT-296), the result of the PN LCU project.
Photo taken from Wikimedia

So why did the PN abandoned the MRV program, and instead replaced it with the SSV program?

It appears that the reason for the change of heart by the navy is, again, budgetary issues.

MaxDefense sources indicate that the PN is not really abandoning the MRV program, but will not be pursued for now due to budgetary issues. The budget is available, but is not enough to pursue at least 2 units of the MRV. Operation tempo and availability was considered in opting to have at least 2 units, which actually makes sense to make sure that there is a ship available at any given time.

As of 2012, the DND and PN have already allocated Php 5 billion for the purchase of a single MRV, and was expecting another Php 5 billion for a second unit as it find the need for at least 2 units to complement each other. But with the PN now actively pursuing new surface combatants that can fight opposing forces (OPFOR) warships and patrol the Philippines' EEZ and territorial waters, the second Php 5 billion originally planned to be allocated for another MRV was diverted to fulfill such plans. The second Php 5 billion was instead allocated to the new frigate program. Also, there is no allocated budget for another MRV from the recently approved 2012-2016 Php 75 billion AFP Modernization short term budget, although the government (specifically the President) can provide special allocation to revive the MRV project if necessary.

With only budget for one MRV, the PN decided that it would make use of the allocated Php 5 billion budget to still pursue two ships, thus moving to the cheaper SSV. As the SSV is just a tad smaller and less capable than the MRV, only a few of the original requirements of the PN might be lost, but most of the major functions of the MRV can still be done by the SSV.

Also, the PN will be actively pursuing the construction of more LCUs similar to the already commissioned BRP Tagbanua to fulfill smaller transport requirements. The PN already released a study based on the Desired Force Mix, and it includes the requirement for around 18 LCUs. 

MaxDefense sources have also confirmed the possible purchase of more LSVs similar to the Bacolod City-class in PN service, or new Landing Ships - Tank (LST) from a still undisclosed country, possibly South Korea, giving the PN several options for transport duties should the MRV project fail. These LSVs and LSTs are far cheaper than even the SSV, although are less capable but can still do its job of transporting troops and vehicles. This will all be dependent on the capacity of the government to allocate funds for the PN.

The PN's Bacolod City-class LSV. More can be obtained due to its cheaper cost should budget be a problem for the MRV or even the SSV.
Photo taken from Wikimedia

With the transport capability of the PN depleting rapidly as the old LSTs are getting harder to maintain and becoming less capable, getting new transport and amphibious assault ships is equally as important in getting new fighting ships. Whatever the choices are, the PN will be able to replace its old assets and improve its transport capability in the next few years.


  1. Fuck them all in our government! ! !

    1. I beg t differ, what we badly need our politicians with balls of steel. We have a bunch of politicians who'd rather buy executive vehicles, whores and shit. We need politicians who would be brazen enough to declare; "enough is enough these incursions should be stopped!" and do something about it.

      But who am I kidding right, from the Spaniards wherein they kicked our ass out, then the Americans when again in our own tuff they kicked their ass, and the Japs where again our recently independent PH lacked weapons because our politicians decided to build stupid structures instead of building an army. And now China. I can only imagine what the fuck will happen to us. In fact I do believe ones the PLA write off our AFP they would just put their own countrymen in position because ours are a bunch of grandstanding bastards that will just linger in public office and would really not amount to anything.

  2. What the Philippines really need is a capable amphibious program. They really need something that is like the Endurance-class landing ship tank/LPD. They can't be too picky because of the price and should get what the can afford. I simply think that corruption is getting in the way of National defense.

    1. Nicky, as explained in the blog, the Philippine Navy is indeed interested in Endurance class. Its their "1st love" but because of the high entry price and low budget (an Endurance class similar to Thailand's cost around 8-9 billion pesos vs the original MRV project of 5 billion pesos per ship). Besides, the ever changing priorities affected the project, now the Navy wants shooters (frigates, corvettes) so a compromise is to settle for the cheaper SSV, which is actually a small MRV/LPD.

    2. The problem here is that if you go for the cheapest SSV, your end up doing what the Royal New Zealand Navy has called the HMNZS Canterbury. It's a ship that doesn't have good sea keeping and has been plagued with problems.

      If the Philippines wants to get into the LPD Amphibious assault business, they need to start looking at getting the Makassar-class landing platform dock or the Endurance-class landing platform dock. I doubt the Philippines can afford western Europe or American LPD's and their only option is the Endurance-class landing platform dock or the Makassar-class landing platform dock.

      IMO, Either the Makassar-class landing platform dock or the Endurance-class landing platform dock are perfect for the Philippine Navy. They are easy to operate and easy for you guys to get in the LPD business. On top of that, the Philippine Marines would have a true Amphibious assault capability.

      The only used LPD that the US Navy has, that the Philippines can ask the US about is the Austin-class amphibious transport dock. They are being replaced by the San Antonio class LPD. IMO, if the philippine's can afford, I would see if the US Navy can sell ya a used Austin-class amphibious transport dock.

    3. Those Austin class have been scrapped since 2009. Where have you been? The next ones to go is the Whidbey Island which probably can put all the PN ships in there. Just exaggerating! We can use it but we will be hard pressed to maintain it.

  3. Cool i like this site. Everything is one place and there's a lot of information. I've always been confused about this program so thanks for making it much clearer. haha

  4. men of corruption! I will pray that your soul and body will rot while you are still living here in the Philippines! Oh, but such men seems like have no souls at all, getting richer at the expense of our homeland and the freedom of our Filipino people.

  5. The gov't should take a serious stand to all kawatans in the AFP! Let them face the firing squad. through this we can a very strong message that the gov't means business!

  6. this site has so much information...hackers can take the information and use it against our makes it easier to counter what we plan...

    1. Believe me, the intelligence services of China and even some of our other foreign neighbors already know about this a long time ago. Chinese hackers can even steal advanced US military tech anytime. Our info here are peanuts in comparison.

    2. Hehehe. Correct sir.

  7. This is a ideal unorthodox defense strategy and cost effective method to transform the numerous transport into a missile carrier groups.

    1. The reason for the PN to have navy ships is to let the other countries know of the Philippine government's presence in the EEZ and conflict areas and ability to patrol and defend them from aggression. The Club-K, although a very a nice system, is meant to be hidden. So they fill different requirements.

    2. What you don't realize, is that a Club-K can be used as a shore based Missle defense against ships and land targets. Imagine the Philippines having batteries of Club K missiles. It would keep China at bay and put up a creditable missile defense against ships from Shore. I would get batteries of Club K missiles and use it to defend the Philippines from ship based attacks.

    3. Nicky, there is no question about Club-K's capability. But as I said, it is a different form of deterrent. The Philippine DND already knows about Club-K, so they realized already its capability for some time now.

    4. Club K will be a tremendous deterrence. It has the range to cover the EEZ and beyond. It has stealth. Probably is inexpensive. And support the assymetric warfare doctrine that a country like the Philippines should adapt. Letting the world know that we have Club K will show the world that we have presence in our EEZ. They just wont know where it is. We can even set tens and tens of decoy container vans along our shores and send out disinfo. that those are Club K's.

    5. I'll go for asymmetrical warfare any time. That's the only way you can go against a bigger and more advanced army like china. DND strategist should look at the possibility of this kind of warfare. How we are building now, it's very conventional. China can wipe us out without even a dent on their part. We have to plan how to make more damage on their side, that make them stop and think twice before doing anything stupid. The higher the attrition rate, the better. And cruise missiles are very cost effective on this, better than BM. 1 vote for Club K. - jamz

  8. How come they will allocate two Billion for an SSV when NEDA approved for P8.8-billion Acquisition of Multi-Role Response vessels. That report came from the news article from inquirer (see link below). You can locate the news at the sixth paragraph. So where will be the remaining P4.8 Billion go. That budget will buy the country four SSV.

    Isn't P 5 billion a ship a bit overpriced for such a ship? It is practically a big barge with big doors.

    And how about that R11 Principe de Asturias aircraft carrier from Spain, is that true, is the Philippines mulling about purchasing it? Well I hope Philippines will, because we badly need and surely surprise other countries of such an achievement.

    I doubt the slow pace of acquisition is budget constraint, it is most probably those top brass are looking for gaps for them to wedge their kickbacks.

    1. Hi.The Php 8.8 billion mentioned in the news report you posted is for the Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels from Japan, which they surprisingly called Multi-Role Response Vessels. The budget for the Philippine Navy MRV is actually Php 5 billion, which was already set-aside from previous budget allocations. But the Aquino administration called-off the purchase of a Korean Makassar-class because of allegations of corruption.

      If the current government is correct, then yes probably the Makassar is a little expensive but still acceptable at Php 5 billion including 2 landing crafts, 4 KAAV7, etc. But the Endurance is even more expensive but its because its more advanced.

      As for the Principe de Asturias, NO there is no plan to get that. I'll be making a separate blog about that stupid article later on.

  9. what is so bad is the country is capable of building ships but so far only one was built and that is BRP Tabuana. something is very wrong in the mindset of the government officials. they are very backward and laidback. sometimes, dictatorship is a lot better for the country and get rid of congress and senate who do nothing and get paid sitting around and debating.

    1. Just wondering, how old are you? It seems that many Filipinos see a strong-hand government as a solution to othe Philippines' government problems. MaxDefense is curious on this issue.

  10. Why don't the government tap our domestic shipyards. One example is Austals of Cebu, it has a pretty decent design for patrol boats and vessels. Its a win-win situation, money paid to the boat, will be paid to the workers, and the workers use that money to buy their needs and half of their salary goes to taxes. Then, it goes back to the national treasury to buy another boat.

    Meaning indirectly the majority of the money paid for a boat never went out of the country. Our navy receives brand new boats, creates employment, transfer of technology, increases Philippine morale and patrimony. That's four birds in one stone. Somehow through my readings, my impression is that our government agencies is not declaring such intentions or plan.

  11. im in my 50s, and im also a reservist in the army.

  12. we need to revive the SRDP of late Pres Marcos and start our own local defense industries. this can also be exported in future and create more revenues aside from the jobs it will create. sanamagan are we too dumbed to not to realize this?

  13. The austal Mrv 80 would be a good candidate

    1. Roger sir. Hope we could make it happen. A trimaran capable of amphibious, logistics and limited air ops with speed exceeding 25 knots. It would be a good complement for our incoming SSV's.


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